Awards & Citations
The 449th Bomb Group was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations, for the missions of 4/4/44 to Bucharest, Romania, and 7/9/44 to Ploesti Romania.
Individual awards within the Group totaled 10,754. The awards were divided as follows:
Battle credits for the Group totaled nine as follows:
- Naples-Foggia and Rome-Arno
- Southern France
- Air Combat Balkans
- Northern Apennines
- Air Offensive Europe
- Northern France
- Po Valley
The Presidential Unit Citation Missions of the 449th Bomb Group
The Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) Criteria:
“The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.”
The 449th Bomb Group received Presidential Unit Citations for two missions: 4 April and 9 July 1944. The 4 April mission was against the marshalling yards at Bucharest, Rumania. The 9 July mission was against the Concordia-Vega oil refinery at Ploesti, Rumania.These missions were costly as shown in the following table. The 4 April mission resulted in the almost total destruction of the Bucharest Marshalling Yard. In addition, the 449th was credited with downing 40 enemy fighters during the horrific air battle. It was the single most costly combat mission of the entire war for the 449th as seven B-24’s were lost with a total of 71 men. The 9 July mission resulted in the almost total destruction of the Concorda Vega oil refinery despite the fact that Ploesti was defended by an effective smoke screen, fighters and perhaps the heaviest concentration of flak guns of all the targets attacked by the 449th. On 9 July, the 449th, in the midst of a tremendous flak barrage, attacked this target using only PFF ground-attack radar to identify the target through the dense smoke screen which completely obscured the target area from visual observation. Post-mission photographic reconnaissance revealed heavy damage to the oil refinery.
The First Presidential Unit Citation Mission: 4 April 1944
Excerpt from “Of Men and Wings”
April 4: Bucharest, Rumania
“TARGET: BUCHAREST MARSH YARD … 376 AND 449 AS FIRST WAVE … 451 AS SECOND WAVE … 98 AND 450 AS THIRD WAVE WITH MAXIMUM AIRCRAFT LOAD 500’S … ATTACK BUCHAREST MARSH YARD…” read the operational order which set in motion the sequence of events which would send the 449th on its most famous, memorable and costly mission.
The Bucharest marshalling yard was one of the key targets in Rumania. Supplies for the German Army in Rumania could be moved either by water down the Danube River from Budapest to Giurgiu, and thence by rail to Bucharest; or, they could be moved entirely by rail from Budapest to Brasov to Ploesti, and thence to Bucharest. In the reverse direction along these two routes moved the vital fuels and lubricants produced in the Rumanian oil refineries. The marshalling yards at Budapest and Bucharest — representing the terminal points of both routes — were thus the key points of this supply link. Destruction of the marshalling yards at these two cities would seriously impair the enemy’s war-fighting ability on all fronts. The preceding day’s attack had inflicted considerable damage on the marshalling yard at Budapest. The objective of today’s attack was to destroy the yards at the Bucharest end of the supply corridor.
The plan was for the 47th Wing to lead the Fifteenth Air Force strike against the Bucharest marshalling yards. Target time for the 47th Wing was 1200 hours. The 5th Wing and the 304th Wing were to follow at ten-minute intervals. Two groups of Lightnings were to provide escort “to prudent limit of endurance” on the route in to the target, and “one group of Lightnings and Thunderbolts” were to intercept the returning formation, and escort the bombers home. Over the target area the bomber formations would be unescorted. So much for the plan.
The entire operation got off to a late start. It was not until 1030 hours that the thirty-two B-24’s making up the 449th’s contribution to this maximum effort were all airborne and headed toward the initial rendezvous point at San Pancrazio. The 376th was to lead the formation. However, when the 376th was late for the rendezvous, Lt. Colonel Gent — flying as the 449th command pilot with Captain Tompkins aboard ship #25 — “took the lead on the briefed course to the coast of Yugoslavia where the 376th and the other groups caught up level and to the right.” Over Yugoslavia, the weather conditions began to worsen. “About 30 minutes beyond the coast, the 376th pulled off to the right and the other groups followed them.”
The 449th formation — now consisting of twenty-nine aircraft after ships #19, #7 and #14 were forced to drop out of the formation due to mechanical difficulties — pressed on alone and unescorted toward the heavily defended target area. At the morning briefing, the Intelligence Section had reported “the presence of 90 heavy, anti-aircraft guns in the Bucharest area with the greatest concentration of 65 guns over the shops and sidings areas” of the marshalling yard. The more ominous portion of the intelligence information was that “the enemy’s capabilities for interception was approximately 175 to 200 single-engine fighters and 30 twin-engine fighters.” The 449th was flying into these defenses without fighter escort, and, more significantly, unaccompanied by other bomb groups.
The 449th formation was unopposed as it crossed Yugoslavia. Near the Rumanian border a fourth aircraft, ship #35, was forced to abort the mission. Shortly before 1400 hours, the 449th — now with only twenty-eight aircraft in the formation — approached the IP located thirty miles northwest of Bucharest. Just prior to the 449th making the final turn at the IP before heading direct to the target, scores of enemy fighters were seen approaching the formation. As the bombardiers took over control of the B-24’s for the bomb run, “approximately 80 to 100 enemy aircraft attacked the formation.” For the next hour-and-a-half, the enemy fighters attacked almost continuously.
“Enemy aircraft were very aggressive and determined carrying attacks to within 100 yards and reports indicate a combination of both experienced and inexperienced pilots. A variety of types of attacks were made from all around the clock from high, level and low but principally from 6 to 9 o’clock and level. The low, left box in the first section was particularly hard hit, losing four out of six ships in that box. Enemy aircraft often made passes in pairs in line astern and split off with one attacking one ship and the other a different ship. “Roller coaster” type attack was used with enemy aircraft firing while climbing to level, then diving and coming up in same tactic against ships farther in front of formation. Enemy aircraft would “daisy chain” across the front of formation, peel off, and attack from all angles. Other enemy aircraft attacked in rows of three or four from rear and sides, fire rockets, and then follow in firing cannons and break away in a dive. Many enemy aircraft flew right through the formation in following up their attacks. Reports indicate that most of our losses were suffered just after bombs away and during rally and just subsequent to rally when formation was not as tight. This may account for heavy loss to low, left box in first section on rally to right. Many enemy aircraft carried belly tanks which were dropped after 15 minutes of fighting. Three enemy aircraft were observed to emit grayish white smoke from left wing next to fuselage and pretend being shot down, would dive, emit smoke, and then recover. … Markings: ME-109 some slate gray in color, some reported silver in color with yellow noses and yellow and black insignia; FW-190 painted blue with yellow circles behind cockpit, yellow bands around fuselage, yellow noses and orange cowls, and some reported with red noses and yellow tips on wings. Whole show might best be described as an aerial circus.”
In the midst of the furious air battle, all twenty-eight of the B-24’s successfully reached the target and dropped a combined total of 70 tons of 500-pound bombs on the Bucharest marshalling yard area. The violence of the action made it almost impossible for crews to observe what was happening to other aircraft in the formation. Although only slight flak was encountered over the target due to the presence of the enemy fighters, ship #6 — in the number-5 position of the high box of the lead section — with Thieme’s crew aboard, reportedly, suffered a direct hit “by flak and exploded over the target — no chutes were seen.” What was certain was that as the Group rallied to the right after the bomb drop, the low box of the lead section bore the brunt of the fighter attacks. Four aircraft from the low box were knocked out of the formation in the course of the violent air battle. No chutes were seen from ship #16 — Polink’s crew — which crashed when “hit by enemy fighters just after the target.” Ship #46 — Tyler’s crew — “was seen to be mortally hit by enemy aircraft fire and burst into flame just after the target. One man bailed out as [the] ship fell into a dive.” Five minutes after bombs were away, ship #8 — Garrison’s crew — was observed to go down “in a controlled dive to 10,000 feet” with “the right wing badly shot up” then “caught fire, rolled on back and crashed.” At about this same time nine chutes were observed from ship #13 — Kendall’s crew — as the aircraft fell out of formation with the number-3 engine on fire. At the “tail-end Charlie” position in the high box of the second section, ship #38 — Bontly’s crew — “was seen to be mortally hit by enemy aircraft fire just after the target. Ten men bailed out immediately and the aircraft fell out of control.” Some 100 miles after the target, ship #11 — McCormick’s crew — was seen to crash in the Danube River after breaking “in half just back of the waist windows” when “hit by enemy aircraft.”
Gunners aboard the B-24’s fought desperately and effectively to ward off the attacking hoards of enemy fighters. Ammunition belts were emptied over the course of the air battle.
“The chatter of guns was incessant, the smell of cordite was everywhere. Brilliant flames and coal black smoke filled the skies as the damaged and burning hulks of seven Libs mingled with more than 40 enemy fighters in that final plunge to the earth so very far below. Even to the calmest and bravest of men it was a nerve racking and terrifying experience of such magnitude that one in a lifetime was more than sufficient. The attack was pressed so vigorously and so determinedly, that the faces of the enemy fighter pilots could be seen as their planes flashed past our bombers. Nowhere and at no time, it is firmly believed, has such a formation of so comparatively few bombers been subjected to such ferocious and sustained attack.”
All sorts of debris — whole aircraft, pieces of aircraft, spent ammunition, empty cartridge cases, parachutes, and even the bodies of dead or dying airmen — rained down on the country side below as the massive air battle cut a swath across the sky. Unlike land-battle sites, no physical features identified where the terrific battle was fought. After it was over, it could only be revisited in the minds of the participants, and in the collections of paper which at best offer only a scanty glimpse of the violence and destruction which occurred that day. After one-and-a-half hours of almost continuous battle, the enemy fighters broke off the engagement. The remaining B-24’s closed up the formation. Crews began to survey damage to their own ships and to count their losses. Seven B-24’s were gone, and thirteen others were damaged — three severely.
Twenty of the twenty-one returning B-24’s would submit one or more claims for enemy aircraft destroyed or damaged. In total, eighty claim forms would be submitted. Nine of these came from ship #10 — the lone survivor of the low squadron of the lead section. After the claims were sorted out and evaluated, 449th gunners would be credited with destroying forty enemy fighters — thirty-two ME-109’s, six FW-190’s, one HE-113 and one ME-210. Another thirteen enemy fighters were listed as probably destroyed, and six as damaged. Seventy-one 449th flyers had been lost as the seven B-24’s went down. Over a third of the flyers lost were killed-in-action, and at least another third became prisoners of war. The exact fate of some was never determined. Casualties among the opposing forces were unknown. The one certain thing was that it had been a day of carnage for both sides in the skies of Rumania. And, yet, in the bigger picture of the war as a whole, this was only one of many such battles that occurred time after time, day after day, in the skies over Europe.
Returning crews reported that visual observation of bombing results was hampered by the dense smoke of fires in the target area. However, the bomb-strike photographs showed that “the main weight of the bombs was very well aimed, causing tremendous damage to the railroad yards, tracks, facilities, and other communication points.” This was further substantiated by large-scale, reconnaissance photographs taken two days after the bombing which showed that the damage done was more extensive than was apparent in the bomb-strike photographs. At least 1,500 railroad cars and ten locomotives were destroyed. “Damage in part of the yards was so considerable that two areas appear to have melted away and no estimate of the number of hits is possible. Several buildings are gutted and roofless. Eight fires could still be seen burning.” The rail lines leading eastward, towards Constanta on the Black Sea, and southward, towards Giurgiu on the Danube River, had definitely been cut. It was without doubt, one of the single, most-effective, bombing attacks made by the 449th during the war. It was also the Group’s most-costly, single day of the entire war.
The Group historian summed up the day’s events: “What a day this has been! The support of the Soviet Armies continued with a heavy attack on the vital Marshalling Yards at Bucharest, Rumania. … Our results were good but we paid a heavy price.”
The 449th would later receive its first Presidential Unit Citation for this mission. The citation read in part:
“By engaging and destroying such a large number of enemy fighters in the air, the 449th Bombardment Group materially contributed to the destruction of the German Air Force. The damage inflicted on the Bucharest Marshalling Yards was a direct factor in breaking down the communications network of the Balkans. The outstanding performance of the leaders on this difficult and hazardous mission, the gallant and heroic efforts of all the men in inflicting tremendous damage to the enemy, together with the indefatigable and enthusiastic work of all the ground personnel of the 449th was an amazing exhibition of esprit de corps and extraordinary gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds. This Group’s extraordinary heroism and superior performance of duty has upheld the highest traditions of the Military Service and has reflected great credit upon the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”
The Second Presidential Unit Citation Mission: 9 July 1944
Excerpt from “Of Men and Wings”
July 9: Ploesti, Rumania
“Ploesti, Ploesti, Ploesti! Among the combat crew members this bugaboo target awakened many from their sleep.” So it was again on the morning of the July 9 when 449th flight crews were awakened shortly after 0300 hours and told to be in the war room by 0345 hours for the mission briefing. As crews filed into the war room, they were jolted from whatever drowsiness still lingered as they traced with their eyes the long, red line which slashed across the map from Grottaglie to PLOESTI.
The Fifteenth Air Force campaign against Ploesti had began back on April 5. When it became obvious to the enemy that the combination of fighters and flak could not protect the vast complex against the American heavy bombers, the Germans resorted to the extensive use of a smoke screen to obscure the main portion of the refinery complex. The smoke screen had proven to be extremely effective. Now, after ten attacks by the Fifteenth Air Force, two refineries the Xenia and the Concordia Vega were still operating at near full capacity.
In preparing for the day’s mission — knowing that the smoke screen would certainly be encountered — the Fifteenth had embarked upon an intensified training regimen to ensure the perfection of PFF bombing techniques. To further prepare the bombardiers, extensive photographic reconnaissance of the entire oil-field complex had been conducted by the reconnaissance squadrons, and, based upon these photographs, highly-accurate, target-identification materials had been prepared.
As the war room briefing proceeded, Capt. Westlake, Group S-2, spelled out the mission details:
“The 47th and 5th Wings have been assigned the task of wiping out a major portion of the remaining oil refining capacity at PLOESTI. Both the Fifteenth and Eighth Air Forces have struck hard at Germany’s oil refining capacity in recent raids. It is estimated that the annual petroleum producing capacity of the enemy is now only half of what is required to sustain his military operations. Approximately one-third of this remaining capacity is located in Ploesti. Destruction of the two refineries being attacked [today] will push the German war machine a long step closer to collapse. … Only our wing and the 5th with escort are flying today. Both are hitting Ploesti at different refineries. We attack 15 minutes after the 5th at 1015 hours. All other Wings stand down. We fly with the 98th and the 450th leads the Wing. … Two groups of fighters will provide penetration, target, and withdrawal cover for each of the Wings. Three groups of fighters will free lance the target area from 0955 to 1030 hours. …Your aiming points are the distillation plants, cracking plants and boiler house. …There are a total of 241 heavy guns in the Ploesti-Campina area. … It is estimated that a total of 100 to 110 single-engine fighters, mostly ME-109’s, and 15 to 20 twin-engine fighters, ME-110’s and JU-88’s, are likely to be encountered in the target area. Initial contact probably will occur within 50 miles west of the target.”
At 0600 hours, ship #60 — with Lt. Colonel Gent in the command seat — lifted off Grottaglie for what would prove to be an eight-hour mission. The twenty-eight 449th B-24’s rendezvoused with the other groups of the Wing, and the combined formation headed eastward toward Yugoslavia. Before the day was finished, the flak over Ploesti would again take a toll on 449th B-24’s. The 449th, sandwiched in between the 376th and 98th Groups, was the third group in the Wing formation being led by the 450th Group.
The formation crossed Yugoslavia and into southern Rumania without meeting any significant resistance. Some fifty miles out from the target, the lead elements of the Wing formation got a good look at the target area. A high column of black smoke towered to over 20,000 feet above the Ploesti area. The lead elements of the 5th Wing had scored direct hits on the Xenia refinery.
Well before the IP was reached, flak began bursting in the sky around the 449th.
At 1000 hours, just before the twenty-four aircraft in the formation reached the IP, ship #21 — Drigger’s Crew — was caught squarely by a flak burst. Fragments from the flak struck the number-2 engine making it necessary to feather it. At the same time both ailerons were almost totally destroyed. Other shell fragments severed control cables and wiped out the hydraulic system. Gas lines were cut, immediately filling the entire ship with highly-explosive fumes. Drigger’s crew knew immediately that they were in serious trouble. The only question was how far back along the return route could they get before being forced to bail out, assuming of course that enemy fighters did not find them and finish the job. The bomb load was immediately jettisoned as Drigger’s crew began their struggle to stay airborne, and to stay with the formation as long as possible.
A red flare arched across the sky indicating that the formation had reached the IP. On the bomb run the flak increased in intensity and accuracy. The seven minute bomb run amidst the very accurate flak seemed an eternity for the men aboard the big bombers.
The smoke screen, as expected, thoroughly obscured the entire target area. The PFF operators aboard the lead aircraft leaned intently over their displays searching for the telltale features that would positively identify the Concordia Vega refinery hidden below the white smoke screen. At 1018 hours, 58-1/4 tons of 500-pound, GP bombs were dropped on the Concordia Vega plant.
As soon as the bombs were released, the formation rallied sharply to the right and began evasive action.
By the time the formation emerged from the flak, three other aircraft — ships #6, #42, and #66 — had suffered a similar fate as ship #21. All were heavily damaged. Ten other aircraft had received lesser damage. Although ten ME-109’s and three FW-190’s were seen in the target area, none attacked the 449th. As the 449th departed the target area, four columns of black smoke could be seen rising to 10,000 feet over the Concordia Vega site.
Aboard the damaged B-24’s, crews worked to keep airborne and to stay with the formation. Ten minutes after the target, the radio operator aboard ship #42 — Van Schoor’s crew — called over the command frequency, and said that the rudder cable was “half way shot out,” and that “part of the electrical system was out.” Ship #42 was last seen falling behind the formation about half-way back across Yugoslavia. In the post-mission debrief, none of the returning crews would be able to say with certainty what had become of ship #42.
At 1105 hours, and a little more than one hundred miles short of the Yugoslavian coast, Drigger’s crew aboard ship #21 was observed “throwing equipment out of the ship” in a futile attempt to remain airborne. Shortly thereafter, the crew “started bailing out.” Nine chutes were seen before the ship crashed. The entire crew would become POW’s.
Westbrook’s crew aboard ship #66, and McGlasson’s crew aboard ship #6, were successful in keeping their big bombers airborne as the formation headed across Yugoslavia, and out over the Adriatic Sea. Both crews elected to stay with their ships rather than bail out. Crossing the Italian coast, both ship #6 and ship #66 diverted toward the field at Gioia. McGlasson’s crew succeeded in reaching Gioia Field where they safely crash landed their ship. For Westbrook’s crew, however, the attempt to reach Gioia ended in tragedy. Ten miles east of Gioia Field, ship #66 “crashlanded and burned, killing 5 and injuring 5 of the crew.”
By 1343 hours, nineteen B-24’s were safely back at Grottaglie Field. Streicher’s crew was known to have landed ship #22, Harper’s Ferry, at Bari where they were being refueled. This left only Van Schoor’s crew aboard ship #42 unaccounted for. An Evasion Aid Report was prepared and forwarded to Wing headquarters. Shortly thereafter, it was learned that Van Schoor’s crew had safely landed their B-24 at the British field on the Island of Vis. Van Schoor’s crew would return to Grottaglie on the following day.
It had been a costly mission. The report to Wing Headquarters summarized the cost as “1 lost, 1 missing, 1 crashed at friendly field.” Due to a “very effective smoke screen,” the strike photos “showed little” except four columns of smoke rising over the target area. For the last time, returning crews received double-mission credit for a Ploesti mission. Before the 449th again visited this dreaded target, Ploesti would be removed from the list of targets for which double-mission credit could be earned.
The outstanding success of the mission would not become known until reconnaissance photographs could be taken. These photographs showed that the 449th had indeed scored a direct hit, and had inflicted major damage on the Concordia Vega refinery. As the details began to emerge in succeeding days, it became evident that the attack had far exceeded expectations. As a result, the 449th received its second Presidential Unit Citation. The citation summarized the mission and the results as follows:
449th BOMBARDMENT GROUP. For outstanding performance of duty in armed conflict with the enemy. During a period of sustained operations against vitally important strategic targets, this Group was ordered to attack and destroy the Concordia Oil Refinery at Ploesti, Rumania. As the second largest refinery in Rumania, the Concordia Oil Refinery contributed large amounts of fuel to the Axis war machine, making its destruction of paramount importance. Realizing that the enemy was utilizing smoke screens as a defense for their important targets, the Group trained diligently in order that they might overcome this handicap. While still continuing on regular operational missions, they carefully prepared the lead crews and undertook practice missions to perfect the use of synchronous PFF methods. Through special briefings, the crews were given additional target instruction to assist them in overcoming this newest obstacle to the successful completion of their mission. Prior to the operation, the ground crews worked determinedly and skillfully to have their aircraft in excellent mechanical condition to insure the ultimate success of the attack. On 9 July 1944, twenty-eight (28) B-24 type aircraft, heavily loaded with maximum tonnage, were airborne and set course for their destination. Long before approaching the target the profuse smoke screen that the enemy was using became visible. Because of its effectiveness, other units were unable to bomb successfully and thus it became of prime importance that the 449th Bombardment Group succeed. Approaching the target, an intense, heavy and accurate barrage of enemy antiaircraft fire was encountered by the entire Group from this heavily defended target which destroyed three of the bombers. Despite this heavy and relentless enemy opposition, displaying outstanding courage and determination, the gallant crews fought their way through the heavy enemy defenses over the smoke covered target, where the planes employed synchronous PFF methods and successfully hit the target. By overcoming the defensive measures of the enemy, together with the heavy enemy fire encountered, they succeeded in inflicting grave damage to vital enemy installations and supplies at a time when they were of the utmost importance to the enemy. Photographic reconnaissance revealed that the Concordia Vega Plant was very heavily damaged thus dealing a heavy blow to the enemy and hastening the collapse of the Axis in the Balkans. By the outstanding gallantry, professional skill and determination of the combat crews, together with the exceptional skill and devotion to duty of the ground personnel, the 449th Bombardment Group has upheld the highest traditions of the Military Service, thereby reflecting great credit upon itself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America. By command of Major General Twining.